Category Archives: Big Oil

Tony Blair linked to Libyan deal with Russian oligarch

Tony Blair with his business partner, “The Leader”. Mr Blair’s own business dealings remain opaque Photo: GETTY

Emails reveal how bank employing former PM tried to oil the wheels of a deal between Russian’s aluminium firm and the Libyan regime

Telegraph | Sep 24, 2011

by Robert Mendick

As he sat back on the private jet, reclining in his comfortable leather armchair, Tony Blair must have felt grateful to his benefactor and friend Colonel Muammar Gaddafi for such largesse. It made Mr Blair’s trip from Libya back to London altogether more civilised than the regular British Airways flight he would have otherwise had to take.

The Bombardier Challenger 300 jet, hired by the tyrant’s regime at a cost of £70,000, was used on at least two occasions by Mr Blair and his entourage to fly to Tripoli. Robert Mugabe, coincidentally, was offered the same jet by Gaddafi on one of his visits to Libya.

Inquiries by The Sunday Telegraph show that Mr Blair visited “The Leader” – as Mr Blair’s staff deferentially described Gaddafi in official correspondence – on six occasions between June 2007, when he quit Downing Street, and June last year.

But what Mr Blair was doing there on such a frequent basis remains something of a mystery.

His numerous websites fail to mention the trips at all. His spokesman declined to answer questions about the frequency of the visits and what was precisely discussed.

So what was Mr Blair up to and why all the secrecy? Email correspondence obtained by the anti-corruption campaign group Global Witness, and seen by this newspaper, shows that Mr Blair was linked to a multi-billion-dollar deal being set up in Libya by JP Morgan, the US investment bank.

Mr Blair is paid a reported £2 million a year as a senior adviser to the bank. Given his extensive contacts established during 10 years in Downing Street, he may be cheap at the price.

JP Morgan was trying to broker a deal between the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), a £50 billion sovereign wealth fund, and Rusal, the world’s biggest aluminium producing company, founded by Oleg Deripaska, the Russian oligarch and friend of Lord Mandelson. There is no suggestion that Lord Mandelson, who at the time was business secretary, was in any way involved in the proposed deal.

Mr Deripaska is not only well-heeled – his fortune was estimated at its peak at £17 billion – but terribly well connected. His acquaintances have included the financier Nat Rothschild and, for a period at least, Saif Gaddafi, the dictator’s most influential son.

George Osborne was, along with Lord Mandelson, a guest on Mr Deripaska’s yacht in the summer of 2008 in Corfu. The lunch on the yacht led to a political storm over claims – vehemently denied – that Mr Osborne had attempted to solicit a £50,000 donation for the Conservative party.

Lord Mandelson, who first met Mr Deripaska in 2004, was also caught up in the fallout from the affair. At the time he was an EU trade commissioner who had authorised cuts in European aluminium import duties. Rusal was one of the main beneficiaries, although Lord Mandelson strongly denied any conflict of interest and said the change in tariffs had not been initiated by him.

At the time the JP Morgan emails were written, in December 2008 and March 2009, Rusal was in financial difficulties, mired in its attempts to restructure about £4.5 billion of debt owed to foreign banks.

If JP Morgan could put a deal together between the LIA and Rusal, then its fees would be huge. Documents seen by The Sunday Telegraph show Rusal was looking for a loan of around £3 billion in the form of a convertible bond, which would be converted into an equity stake in Rusal at a later date.

One source said the LIA was looking at providing a loan of about £1.3 billion. Had the convertible bond deal gone ahead – it later floundered for reasons JP Morgan refuses to go into – the bank could have netted fees of between £25 million and £50 million.

The first of the emails obtained by Global Witness was sent on Dec 28, 2008, from JP Morgan to Mustafa Zarti, the then vice-chairman of the LIA.

Mr Zarti, 41, was one of Libya’s most powerful money men and — this is no coincidence — a close friend of Saif Gaddafi, whom he met when the pair were studying in Vienna.

Written by Lord Renwick, JP Morgan’s vice-chairman and a former British ambassador to the US, the email states: “Dear Mr Zarti, On behalf of JP Morgan, we would like to invite you to London in the week beginning 12 January to finalise the terms of the mandate concerning Rusal before Mr Blair’s visit to Tripoli which is scheduled to take place on around 22 January.

“I will look forward very much to meeting you and to introducing you to the members of the JP Morgan team and we would of course like to host a dinner for you while you are here.

“Could you very kindly let me know what date might be convenient for you to visit London? With best wishes Robin Renwick.”

Lord Renwick, incidentally, was made a Labour peer by Mr Blair in 1997, although he now sits in the House of Lords as a cross-bencher.

Mr Blair subsequently visited Col Gaddafi on Jan 22. No details of the discussions between the two men appear in public records.

The meeting merited a mention by the Qatar News Agency. Its report declared that the pair had discussed a “host of international issues” but gave no further details. Last week, JP Morgan said Mr Blair had no knowledge of the deal that the bank was trying to set up between the LIA and Rusal.

Two months later, JP Morgan was still involved with the LIA and Rusal.

In a second email obtained by Global Witness, which was sent on March 11, 2009, to Mr Zarti, Lord Renwick enclosed details of the convertible bond deal that Rusal was hoping to put together.

Lord Renwick wrote that a “number of clarifications are still needed and they [Rusal] are still finalising their proposal. When they have done so, we will pass this on to you with our analysis of it, so that you can then decided [sic] whether you would wish to pursue the matter.”

Lord Renwick concluded: “Meanwhile, we very much appreciate our co-operation with you on other issues.”

It is not clear what those other issues were or whether Mr Blair had any involvement in them.

A month later, on April 7, Mr Blair’s private office wrote to the British embassy outlining another planned visit to Tripoli. In the email, Mr Blair’s office noted that he hoped to meet not only Gaddafi but senior figures in the LIA including Mr Zarti. Mr Blair met Gaddafi on April 30; it is not known if the meeting with Mr Zarti went ahead.

In September 2009, nine months after Lord Renwick’s first known email to Mr Zarti, it was reported that talks between LIA and Rusal had broken down. “It [Rusal] had been in active discussions with the Libyans about selling a 10 per cent stake in the Russian group,” said one report at the time.

A JP Morgan spokesman said: “JP Morgan declined to participate on such a transaction and thus Mr Blair was never involved, and it was never discussed with him.”

Although JP Morgan had dropped out of the deal, all was not lost for Rusal and the LIA. Perhaps JP Morgan’s services were no longer needed.

By the summer of 2009, Mr Deripaska and Saif Gaddafi, who had influence with the LIA, were said to be acquaintances. Mr Gaddafi hosted a 37th birthday party that year to which Mr Deripaska and Mr Rothschild were reportedly invited. Mr Deripaska, who has a £20 million home in Belgravia in London and speaks fluent English, instead floated Rusal on the Hong Kong stock market in January 2010 and the LIA bought $300 million worth of shares, the largest single purchase in the flotation. The flotation was a success and, with Rusal’s debt restructured, Mr Deripaska’s business was secure, although the LIA would lose $50 million in six months as Rusal’s share price dropped.

Mr Blair’s own business dealings remain opaque. He insists that he was not involved in, or even told about, the JP Morgan negotiations in Libya; in which case, it seems curious that the investment bank was dropping his name without his knowledge.

But then again, JP Morgan could be excused for cashing in on their best connected and most bankable asset.

China Opens Oil Field in Iraq

A China National Petroleum Corporation engineer working at Iraq’s Al Ahdab oil field. | Jun 28, 2011


BEIJING — China’s largest oil company has begun operations at Al-Ahdab oil field in Iraq, making the field the first major new area to start production in Iraq in 20 years, according to an official news report on Tuesday.

Operations began June 21, and the field is expected to produce three million tons of crude oil per year, reported China Daily, an official English-language newspaper. The oil field was discovered in 1979 and is believed to contain a billion barrels of crude.

The Chinese company, the China National Petroleum Corporation, a state-owned enterprise, secured rights to the field under a technical services contract signed with the Iraqi government in November 2008. Under the contract, the company has development rights for 23 years, China Daily reported. It is investing $3 billion.

The contract, the renegotiation of a deal first signed in 1996 with the government of Saddam Hussein, was postponed after the United Nations imposed economic sanctions on Iraq and the American military toppled Mr. Hussein in 2003. Analysts say the Ahdab operation is China National Petroleum’s largest in the Middle East.

The contract stipulates that the company receive a fee for every barrel of oil produced, rather than an equity interest in the oil field, as it would have under the original agreement with Mr. Hussein’s government. A Chinese oil executive said in 2009 that the company would make a profit of less than one percent, but that the contract was a way to “get a foot in the door” of the Iraqi oil industry, which has much larger fields than Ahdab.

The deal began drawing intense criticism from residents and officials in Wasit Province, where the field is located, shortly after the contract was signed. Some people demanded that Wasit be granted a royalty of $1 a barrel to improve access to clean water, health services, schools, roads and other public needs in the province, which is among Iraq’s poorest. The Iraqi government rejected the demands.

Local residents complained in 2009 that Chinese development of the field would have no benefits for them, other than providing several hundred people with jobs as laborers and security guards for less than $600 a month. At the time, China National Petroleum said it was in an exploration phase and did not need much labor. Now, with the start of production, it is unclear whether the company has hired more residents. At the time, the 100 Chinese workers at the compound were too scared to leave the area for fear of being kidnapped.

The Ahdab field’s estimated reserves are small by Iraq’s standards. The Rumaila field near the southern city of Basra, for which China National Petroleum and BP signed a development deal in June 2009, is Iraq’s largest oil field, with an estimated 17.8 billion barrels. Iraq as a whole is estimated to have reserves of more than 100 billion barrels.

China’s energy needs have soared, and it has been scouring the world for energy sources. On Tuesday, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan, in which China has large oil interests, arrived in Beijing for talks with Chinese leaders. Mr. Bashir faces indictment by the International Criminal Court on war crimes and genocide charges, but China is not obligated to arrest him because it is not a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the court. He is scheduled to meet President Hu Jintao on Wednesday.

Gulf oil spill cleanup workers report medical problems; lawsuit filed

Cleanup workers shovel and bag oiled sand on the beach in Or­ange Beach on June 15, 2010, after the oil spill on the Gulf Coast. Some workers have joined a lawsuit after reporting health prob­lems. / Advertiser file | Jun 25, 2011

by Mary Sell

The three didn’t have much in common before April 2010.

Gary Stewart of Mobile grew up on the water. After the explo­sion on the Deepwater Horizon rig and the subsequent oil spill, the company he captained a boat for signed on to help with the cleanup. He didn’t know until the day he left for a 28-day assignment that his boat would be spreading a chemi­cal dispersant near the site of the destroyed oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. For more than a month, he says, he worked and lived without a respirator.

Ricky Thrasher of Orange Beach answered an ad on Craigslist and got himself on a shrimping boat that was rounding up oil in the Vessels of Opportunity program. He saw it as a chance to do some good, and make some good money.

“I was out there for six days, and I had to call them to come get me, I was so sick,” Thrasher said. He’s still sick. Among his list of symptoms are as many as 16 bowel movements a day.

Robyn Hill of Foley worked as a greeter of sorts to the tourists on Gulf Shores’ beaches. It was the greatest job, she said. After the oil began coming ashore, the tourists had to share the beach with environmental­ists, hazardous materials teams and the media. But her job didn’t change.

“We were still in our shorts and T-shirts, greeting people.”

Until she passed out on the beach one day in June.

They didn’t have much in common before last year. Now Stewart, Thrasher and Hill are unemployed, unin­sured, in debt and in pain. They say they can’t work; they can barely function.

They say they used to be healthy. Now they’re not.

They say they had no clue what they were working with and were being exposed to during the oil spill cleanup process.

And they want someone to make it right — to make them right.

The three are now part of a multidistrict litigation filed in U.S. District Court in New Orleans. Plaintiffs are asking for compensatory and puni­tive damages and medical screening and monitoring. Defendants include BP, which owned the oil well and was leasing the Deepwater Horizon rig, Transocean Ltd., which owned the rig, and Nalco Co., the company from which BP purchased chemical dispersants to use in the cleanup.

Full story

150 Chemicals Are No Longer Incognito | Jun 13, 2011


This month the Environmental Protection Agency made public the names of 150 chemicals that were investigated in health and safety studies but whose identities were withheld as confidential business information.

Fresh crude and oil broken down by dispersant in the Gulf of Mexico in May 2010. Several ingredients of Corexit, the chief dispersant that BP used to dissolve the oil after the Deepwater Horizon spill, are among 150 chemicals whose identities have been disclosed by the E.P.A.European Pressphoto AgencyOil broken down by dispersant in the Gulf of Mexico last year. Some ingredients of the dispersant Corexit were among 150 chemicals whose identities were disclosed by the E.P.A.

The release of the information, which identified chemicals researched in 104 studies, reflects a slow but determined effort by the E.P.A. to reform what it views as a flawed system for regulating toxic substances. It is the second disclosure of its kind this year, after the release of 40 chemicals’ names in March.


Gulf Coast Residents Still Sick From BP Oil Spill

The agency is working to remedy what it views as the abuse of so called C.B.I. privileges, which prevent the public from learning that a specific chemical may pose risks.

The chemicals’ identities were withheld under the Toxic Substances Control Act, a 1976 law that gives the E.P.A. the authority to set reporting and testing requirements for chemical substances. (Food, drugs, cosmetics and pesticides are exempted from that law.) Critics have faulted the measure as ineffective in protecting the public, noting that 17,000 of the 84,000 chemicals on the agency’s toxic substances inventory are not publicly identified at the manufacturers’ request.

At the time of the law’s passing, industrial chemicals were deemed innocent until proven guilty, meaning that it was the E.P.A.’s responsibility to show that a chemical posed a potential risk, not the manufacturer’s to demonstrate its safety. Since 1976, 22,000 new chemicals have been approved by the agency; 62,000 were already on the market when the law was passed.

Although the agency has the authority to review and challenge the confidentiality requests, it has lacked the capacity to cope with the tens of thousands filed each year. On average, only about 14 cases have been reviewed annually, although that pace is now accelerating.

When health and safety data have been submitted to the E.P.A. on a specific chemical, the bar in theory is supposed to be set higher, allowing the chemical’s name to be withheld only if a study reveals sensitive details of the chemical’s manufacturing process or a specific, proprietary formulation. Yet once a chemical’s name had been protected as confidential during its early development, its identity tended to remain confidential indefinitely.

Included on the list of 150 chemicals issued on Wednesday are several components of Corexit, a dispersant manufactured by Nalco that was used to break down oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill last year in the Gulf of Mexico.

Medical professionals and ecologists will now have access to the health and safety data for chemicals on the list, opening the way for a deeper understanding of the risks of exposure for humans and marine wildlife.

Government Releases Partial List Of Chemicals Found In Oil Spill Dispersants

New York, NY – A year after the BP Gulf oil disaster and under pressure from environmental groups, the EPA finally released a list of the chemical components in oil dispersants. | Jun 12, 2011

( – New York, NY — A year after the BP Gulf oil disaster and under pressure from environmental groups, the EPA finally released a list of the chemical components in oil dispersants. The federal agency also disclosed health and safety information about the chemical components that were previously withheld from the public as “confidential business information.” The potential health and environmental effects of the unprecedented use of dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico, both in volume and the underwater application, however, remain unknown.

EPA released a list of the 57 ingredients in all of the dispersants eligible for use in oil spills and identified the specific ingredients of some of them—in particular, Dispersit, Mare Clean, and COREXIT 9500 and COREXIT 9527, which were used in response to the oil disaster in the Gulf.  The 57 ingredients were part of a larger list of 150 chemicals made public by EPA, which also included components found in consumer products.

The new chemical dispersant data was released as a result of a lawsuit filed in July of 2010 on behalf of Florida Wildlife Federation and Gulf Restoration Network, represented by Earthjustice. However, EPA continues to withhold the identity of specific ingredients found in most of the dispersants that are eligible for use in response to oil spills.

“This disclosure was long overdue,” said Earthjustice attorney Marianne Engelman Lado. “These dispersants were used in massive quantities, nearly 2 million gallons, exposing workers, community residents, and wildlife to toxic chemicals, without adequate information about whether they were adding injury to the already tragic circumstances.”

In July of 2010, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Gulf Restoration Network and the Florida Wildlife Federation to force EPA to release health and safety information related to dispersants.

“The public has a right to know what the dispersants being used in the Gulf will do to the Gulf—and to its wildlife,” said Manley Fuller of the Florida Wildlife Federation.

“It is just bad policy to pre-approve the use of chemicals when we have very little understanding for their short-term and long-term toxicity,” said Casey DeMoss Roberts of the Gulf Restoration Network.

Earthjustice attorneys are also monitoring progress made by the EPA to strengthen regulation of dispersants. In a separate petition to the EPA, groups in the oil producing regions, represented by Earthjustice, have asked the EPA to significantly improve the way dispersants are tested and approved.

“The EPA has been sitting on this crucial information about what is in dispersants and their toxicity, and they continue to withhold information—such as the identity of specific ingredients in individual dispersant products—that would be extremely helpful to healthcare providers and response workers in future oil spills,” said Engelman Lado of Earthjustice.

The groups asked that the EPA require disclosure of dispersant ingredients when warranted to ensure protection of human health and the environment and would give EPA much-needed authority to better control dispersant use. The Chemical Dispersant Safety Act, introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg, would also require the EPA to take strong action to regulate dispersants.

Ban on Corexit Approved by Louisiana Senate Environmental Quality Committee | Jun 1, 2011

by Donald Pennington

In response to the volume of oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last April 19th, 2010, oil company officials and federal authorities laced the Gulf waters with a dispersant called Corexit®—around 1.84 million gallons to be more precise. Environmental groups, Gulf shore residents, and state officials in Louisiana have expressed concern over the toxicity of the dispersant. And now, a few changes in state law may ban the substance from being used again in the event of another oil spill.

According to a report on, federal officials have not released toxicity reports regarding the use of the dispersant, in spite of numerous requests from various state concerns, including Republican A. G. Crowe, who proposed the ban. Various environmental and faith-based groups also report no response to their requests for documents pointing out potential health impacts of such chemicals.


Oil clean-up chemical dispersants more dangerous than oil itself?

Crowe suggests only the use of “practically non-toxic” dispersants in the event of a future oil spill. Just one of the highlighted standards to be met is that any dispersants have a “substantiated end-point of carbon dioxide and water.” But, is this feasible?

Full Story

Oil clean-up chemical dispersants more dangerous than oil itself? | Jun 1, 2011

by KJ Mullins

The use of chemical dispersants to clean up the BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast may be more damaging to the ecosystem than the oil itself, according to preliminary findings by University of West Florida researchers.

The chemical dispersant, Corexit, used by BP is toxic when mixed with oil to phytoplankton and bacteria. Those every elements are vital to the food chain within the Gulf of Mexico’s waters.

“That (effect) may cascade itself up through other larger organisms as you go up the food web,” Wade Jeffrey, a UWF biologist with the Center for Environmental Diagnostics and Bioremediation said Tuesday in an article from Pensacola News Journal. “It’s one of those small pieces of a big puzzle of effects. We can’t say if we’ve seen big shifts yet. I don’t know that answer yet.”


Ban on Corexit Approved by Louisiana Senate Environmental Quality Committee

The BP oil spill dumped 2 million gallons of dispersant chemicals into the Gulf after 4.1 million barrels of oil polluted the waters from the Deepwater Horizon’s April 20, 2010 explosion.

The study has found that the chemicals used to fix the problem caused the oil to become smaller droplets. Those droplets are more available to animals in the waters. One of those animals that have suffered are dolphins. Dolphin mothers appear to have not been able to build up blubber to weather the cold as a result of the chemicals used in the water.

Full Story

Did BP’s oil-dissolving chemical make the spill worse?

A sea turtle swims through a muck of oxidizing oil mingling with chemical dispersants used by BP to break up oil in the Gulf of Mexico in this May 2010 photo — just a few weeks after the spill began. NICOLE BENGIVENO / NEW YORK TIMES | May 30, 2011

By Kate Spinner

BP succeeded in sinking the oil from its blown well out of sight — and keeping much of it away from beaches and marshes last year — by dousing the crude with nearly 2 million gallons of toxic chemicals. But the impact on the ecosystem as a whole may have been more damaging than the oil alone.

The combination of oil and Corexit, the chemical BP used to dissolve the slick, is more toxic to tiny plants and animals than the oil in most cases, according to preliminary research by several Florida scientists. And the chemicals may not have broken down the oil as well as expected.

Scientists reported some of their early findings last week at a Florida Institute of Oceanography conference at the University of Central Florida. The researchers were funded a year ago through a $10 million BP grant.


Scientists find Corexit made BP Gulf catastrophe worse is not news

The initial findings require more research for scientists to reach definitive conclusions. But scientists said they were struck by the studies so far.

They added BP oil to a jar of sea water and saw all the oil float to the top. After adding a little Corexit to the mix, the entire bottle of water turned the color of dark coffee.

In theory, the chemically dissolved oil should be a feast for bacteria that would break down some of the most harmful products in the oil.

But the Corexit may not have done its job properly, said Wade Jeffrey, a biologist with the University of West Florida’s Center for Environmental Diagnostics and Bioremediation.

“So far — and this is very preliminary — we’re not seeing a big difference,” Jeffrey said. “The way we’re doing the experiment, the Corexit does not seem to facilitate the degradation of the oil.”

Additionally, the Corexit and oil mixture tends to be more toxic to phytoplankton — tiny microscopic plants — than the oil itself.

Jeffrey subjected water samples, mostly from the Pensacola region, to heavily diluted concentrations of oily water and oily water mixed with Corexit. Most of the time the mix of Corexit and oil was more toxic to the phytoplankton in the sample than oil alone. Additionally, the Corexit did not prompt the oil-eating bacteria in the samples to gobble the oil any faster.

Jeffrey worked with a concentration of 1 part per million of oil and a tenth of that concentration for Corexit. Higher doses of oil killed the phytoplankton immediately, leaving Jeffrey with nothing to observe.

To see whether Corexit is more effective at breaking down larger concentrations of oil, Jeffrey plans more experimentation without the phytoplankton.

A similar study showed toxic effects of oil and Corexit on larger species, including conch, oysters and shrimp.

Susan Laramore, assistant research professor at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, used somewhat degraded oil from tar mats collected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute to conduct her research.

Not all of the results are in, but early evidence shows the oil and dispersant mixture to be more toxic than the oil alone.

“These results are backwards of what the oil companies are reporting,” Laramore said.

The findings raise questions about whether the federal government should have let BP use so much dispersant on the oil. The Environmental Protection Agency tried to force BP to use a less damaging product, but no other product was available in sufficient quantities.

The dispersant effectively kept a great deal of the oil at sea, where it was not easily visible to the public. Although as much as half the oil that spewed from the well — 186 million to 227 million gallons — is unaccounted for, plenty of it still washed ashore, from the border of Texas to the Florida Panhandle.

Reports and videos taken last week by scientist Dana Wetzel of Sarasota’s Mote Marine Laboratory also show that the marshes of Louisiana’s Barataria Bay remain heavily choked in oil.

Evidence also is growing that the Corexit did not degrade as promised. A study in January by scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts indicated that Corexit applied at the well-head — some 800,000 gallons — did nothing to break up the oil and simply drifted into the ecosystem.

FIO researcher Wilson Mendoza similarly has found potential evidence that Corexit remains in the environment much longer than expected. Wilson, a doctoral candidate at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School for Marine and Atmospheric Science, is developing a fingerprint for the BP oil and the Corexit.

In testing 75 different water samples taken from around the Gulf of Mexico, some contained signatures identified for both the oil and the Corexit a year after the spill.

Mendoza is running another test, using equipment that can analyze substances at a molecular level to verify the findings.

“If some of the other teams found out that Corexit is actually toxic and if it’s still there after a year, then I suppose it could cause environmental problems to a lot of organisms in the Gulf of Mexico,” Mendoza said.

Oil Spill Hearing to Focus on Sickness and Other Claims BP Wants to Dismiss | May 27, 2011


     NEW ORLEANS (CN) – A Thursday hearing will focus on motions to dismiss claims in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, including claims from cleanup workers who say they are sick from exposure to toxic chemicals.

     Thousands of plaintiffs have filed hundreds of claims for personal injuries, property damages and other causes stemming from the April 20, 2010 explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon drill rig that killed 11 people and dumped millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Almost all of the claims have been consolidated in New Orleans Federal Court under U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier.

Because the issues vary widely, the lawsuits have been divided into pleading bundles. The Thursday hearing will concern bundles B1, B3 and D1.

BP, Transocean, Halliburton, Cameron International, Nalco – the manufacturer of the dispersant Corexit – and numerous other defendants filed motions over the past months challenging claims in the three pleading bundles.

Bundle B1 concerns economic damages, B3 health issues related to oil exposure and oil spill cleanup, and D1 is from plaintiffs challenging regulatory actions under the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Restoration, Cleanup and Liability Act, and maritime and state laws.

A motion filed by the plaintiff steering committee states that B3 bundle plaintiffs “are individuals who worked in the Vessels of Opportunity (‘VoO’) program, other vessel captains and crew not involved in the VoO program who were nonetheless assisting in clean-up efforts and were exposed to the oil’s and/or chemical dispersants’ harmful effects, and beach clean-up workers and residents who live in close proximity to the shore. …

“The chemicals to which they were exposed – hydrocarbons from oil and in situ burning and chemical dispersant, including Corexit – can cause a wide array of health problems, such as respiratory ailments, disruption of the nervous system, impairment of liver and kidney function, and interference with the reproductive system.”

The steering committee says “the defendants had the means, ability and opportunity to protect people who participated in the clean-up effort, as well as shoreline residents, from toxic exposure. Consequently, the defendants could have prevented their illnesses and diseases. But, instead, the defendants cavalierly failed to take even the minimum of safety measures to ensure the health and welfare of workers and the community at risk of exposure to the chemicals. As a result, thousands of people are ill and/or have been exposed to chemicals in a manner that puts them at risk of becoming ill in the future.”

The plaintiffs want BP and the other oil spill defendants to pay for medical monitoring – the defendants say they don’t have to.

Nalco, which made Corexit, which was dumped in quantity onto the Gulf to sink and disperse the oil slicks, “moves to dismiss the B3 Master Complaint on the grounds that plaintiffs’ products liability claims are ‘conflict preempted’ because the federal government has approved the use of dispersants, including Corexit, for oil spill response generally and specifically for the BP oil spill response,” the plaintiffs’ document states.

“To prevail on its motion, defendant Nalco would have to show as a matter of law that plaintiffs’ injuries stem from defendants’ compliance with federal law and that it was physically impossible to use a less toxic dispersant,” the motion states.
Cleanup workers say they were not given appropriate gear to shield them from contact with the oil and dispersants. They say that at times dispersants were sprayed onto them from planes as they worked.

In a complaint filed a week ago, Paul Hebert says he worked aboard a boat for a company that BP hired to help contain the oil spill at the site of the Macondo well. Hebert’s complaint says the job put him in constant exposure to oil and other toxic chemicals, but he was not provided a respirator. He says he “developed a seizure disorder, memory problems, toxic poisoning, respiratory problems, skin rashes, stomach complications, and other long term health effects not yet known.” Hebert seeks $25 million in damages.

The plaintiffs’ motion in opposition to dismissing the B3 bundle says the defendants have claimed immunity to lawsuits under the federal Clean Water Act.

The plaintiffs say that reasoning is erroneous: “Congress expressly immunized the federal government from liability for ‘any damages arising from its actions or omissions relating to any response plan required by’ the Clean Water Act. 33 U.S.C. 1321 (j) (8). This limitation on liability inures only to the benefit of the federal government for the specified activity. Defendants are not the federal government; they are private entities. Nothing in the language of the Act suggests that this provision extends to any other party or entity. …

“The statutory and regulatory sections cited to by plaintiffs in the B3 bundle master complaint are not a mysterious web of laws existing in the ether – they are the very heart of the laws that prohibit water pollution, in particular from spills, and set forth the clean-up responses and obligations to workers required in the unfortunate instances in which such a spill occurs.”

The defendants’ objections to claims filed under the B1 master complaint focus on the Oil Pollution Act.

BP claims that none of the plaintiffs in the B1 master complaint are eligible for the claims they make under the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) because the plaintiffs must file an OPA claim through the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) and wait to either be denied or for the 90-day negotiation period to pass before they may file suit against BP.

BP says that “every court considering the issue has held that dismissal is mandatory for a plaintiff who failed to comply with OPA’s claim presentment requirement.”

Attorneys for defendants did not immediately return phone calls.

Saif Gaddafi: dictator’s son who mingled with British high society

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi asked the architect Lord Foster to oversee the development of the Green Mountain area in north-eastern Libya. Photograph: Chris Helgren/Reuters

Libyan leader’s second son, named as a war crimes suspect, built a network of powerful contacts in London.

Rothschild is said to have been invited to Saif’s 37th birthday party in Montenegro, and Saif has been to the Rothschild family villa in Corfu, once meeting Mandelson there while he was in government as business secretary. | May 16, 2011

by Robert Booth

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, named as a war crimes suspect by the chief prosecutor at The Hague on Monday, was a magnetic presence for British politicians, bankers and business people who wanted to deal with oil-rich Libya but not with the international pariah his father had become.

He built powerful establishment links from university education and politics to high finance, architecture and publishing. The billionaire hedge fund investor Nat Rothschild, the Labour peer Lord Mandelson, and the architect Lord Foster were among his contacts, while Oxford University Press was going to publish his book, Manifesto, which called for civil society and participatory democracy in Libya. In it, Saif wrote: “I believe it is the duty of the people to rebel against tyranny.” OUP cancelled publication in February “because of recent events in Libya”.

To some who knew him in London he seemed more like an international playboy than the powerful son and likely heir to one of Africa’s longest-standing dictatorships. Two years ago he moved into a £10m house complete with a suede-lined indoor cinema not far from an area of north London known as Billionaire’s Row.

He would dine at China Tang, Sir David Tang’s restaurant at the Dorchester hotel, and mix in a jet-set world of dinner at the Cipriani and drinks at Annabel’s, according to Luca del Bono, an Anglo-Italian businessman who had dealings with Saif on plans, which never bore fruit, to take Italian fashion brands to Libya.

“He used to be quite social in London,” Del Bono said. “If you went to the clubs he would be there. Last time I saw him he said he had just been to Downing Street. He was obviously connected.”

The London School of Economics accepted a £1.5m donation from the Gaddafi international charity and development foundation chaired by Saif, of which the LSE said it had received £300,000.

The LSE, where Saif studied for a PhD gained in 2008 from the university’s centre for the study of global governance, also agreed a £2.2m contract with the regime to train Libyan civil servants and professionals, of which £1.5m has been received. Lord Woolf, the former lord chief justice, is now investigating the deals, as well as the award from Gaddafi’s charity of £22,857 to cover costs for academic speakers to travel to Libya. Prof David Held, an academic adviser to Saif at the LSE, was invited to join the board of the foundation but he later stepped down over concerns about a potential conflict of interest.

Anthony Giddens, a Labour peer and former director of the LSE, twice met Muammar Gaddafi on trips in 2006 and 2007 organised by Monitor Group, a US lobbying firm.

“The political class in this country have courted him,” said Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski, chairman of the parliamentary all-party group on Libya. “Lord Mandelson and others have seen him as the main interlocutor with the Libyan regime. Saif has branded himself as the caring face of the Libyan regime and they have added to that branding.

“That was inaccurate and, as events have shown, the man was as gung ho as his father when it comes to suppressing the Libyan people. A lot of people who have supported him and interacted with him will have to explain themselves.”

Rothschild is said to have been invited to Saif’s 37th birthday party in Montenegro, and Saif has been to the Rothschild family villa in Corfu, once meeting Mandelson there while he was in government as business secretary.

“He has a close relationship with Nat Rothschild,” said a Libyan source in London familiar with Saif, who asked not to be named. “I know about a dinner in early 2010 that was organised in New York in Saif’s honour where Rothschild was one of the principal organisers.

“There must have been a dozen to 20 mainly American-Jewish business families. Saif spent the evening talking about what his father will and won’t allow in Libya, the business opportunities in Libya and how they wanted to encourage influential business people to be involved.”

A spokesman for Rothschild said there was no business relationship between the two men and said they knew each other socially.

The Libyan source said that one reason why Saif had so carefully cultivated his contacts in the UK was because he had persuaded his father to adopt a strategy for Libya that involved manufacturing the impression of a difference of opinion between them. Saif would be seen by the outside world as a reformer and his father could be seen to be taking a ceremonial role. “The truth is they were never intending to develop the country,” the source said. “They were only interested in maintaining power, and the plan was to keep people poor.”

Saif commissioned Foster to oversee the development of the Green Mountain area of Libya, in the north-east of the country. He also invited Robert Adam, one of Prince Charles’s favourite architects, to attend the launch in 2007.

“This was supposed to be their entry into Mediterranean tourism, and they were buying global PR,” Adam said. “They laid on a dinner, a tented hotel, flights in private jets, the works. I was paid for by the Libyan state. I knew this wasn’t the nicest government but I didn’t do any work for them. I turned up and looked at it rather cynically.”

Foster spoke alongside Gaddafi and talked about the area’s enormous promise. “This is one of the most beautiful and little-known landscapes on earth,” he said. “We’ve been given a unique challenge: to establish a sustainable blueprint for future development which will be sensitive to the history of the Green Mountain and to its conservation.”

Saif said: “We share a determination to build for our children a future full of opportunity and fulfilment and a dedication to the protection of their heritage.”

Foster was also asked to draw up a masterplan for part of Tripoli. A spokeswoman for Lord Foster said “We are not going to comment.”

Saif also hired British PR advisers. The firm Brown Lloyd James was retained to handle the management of Saif’s reputation.

Peter Brown, one of the company’s founding partners, is a friend of Mandelson. He was unavailable for comment.

“BLJ New York did provide some PR services to Libya but have not done so since 2009,” said Oliver Lloyd, executive vice-president of BLJ in London. “The UK office has never had a contract with the Libyans or received any payments from the Libyan government or either Muammar or Saif Gaddafi.”

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